Sky Bet CTO Andy Burton talks about his career, love of UNIX and how he helped launch the Virgin Mobile MVNO
Each week we profile a leading CIO, CTO or IT manager from the world of technology and beyond to see where their career has taken them and what issues are affecting them today. Get in touch if you want to be featured!
This week we speak to Andy Burton, who heads up technology for Sky Bet
What is your role and who do you work for?
I’m the CTO of Sky Betting & Gaming which is a dream job combining my passions for technology, business and sport.
How long have you been in IT?
A long time! I’ve worked in IT since I graduated from Sheffield University in 1987 and started my first job developing applications using now obsolete technologies for a company that doesn’t exist any more.
What is your most interesting project to date?
There have been many over the last 7 years at Sky Betting & Gaming, but probably the single project that stands out is the launch of Virgin Mobile in 1999, the world’s first MVNO, where I was the IT Architect.
In the space of nine months we went from a small group of people with a concept and a few drawings to launching a new business with fully integrated front and back office systems, a mobile network and a groundbreaking customer experience. It was an astonishing achievement that shows what you can do with inspirational leadership and a small group of great people.
What is your biggest challenge at the moment?
From a technology point of view, it’s an ongoing challenge to scale the Sky Bet platforms and apps to ensure the customer experience is fast, relevant and easy to use as we continue to support an ever growing number of customers and deliver real time updates to their devices.
From a people and culture point of view, we’re very focussed on maintaining the things that made Sky Bet great as we scale up the internal team – we doubled the number of employees last year. I’m very interested in Lean-Agile People Operations and intrinsic motivators to create an environment where people can do their best.
What technology were you working with ten years ago?
In 2006 I was a Technology Director at Wanadoo. following the rebrand from Freeserve. We were starting to use more open source technologies and moving away from the enterprise tech stack (Sun, Solaris, Oracle, etc) that a lot of dotcoms had bought into a few years earlier.
We developed back end services in J2E/Oracle and used open source frameworks on the front end. In the data centre, we were starting to use server virtualisation and Linux on commodity servers. Smart phones were starting to take off but hadn’t reached the usability levels that followed the iPhone launch the following year.
What is your favourite technology of all time?
That would probably be the UNIX operating system. It’s easy to forget what the tech world was like 25 years ago and how much simpler, cheaper and more accessible technology is now as a result of the work of Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie and Co.
Without UNIX, the UNIX philosophy and the open source movement, I very much doubt we’d have such widespread adoption of the things we take for granted today like the WWW, smart phones and instant comms.
I still remember my feelings of joy and freedom when I started using UNIX compared with the glass-room mainframe environments I’d worked in previously.
How will the Internet of Things affect your organisation?
In the short term it’s easy to see proximity sensors making it easier for our people to do their jobs more efficiently, easily and productively.
In the sports betting world the use of wearable tech opens up a whole world of additional data that can be used for statistical analysis and live betting opportunities.
What smartphone do you use?
What three apps could you not live without?
Spotify, Google Maps, Slack
What new technology are you most excited for a) your business and b) yourself?
I’m interested in quantum computing and whether the hype will become reality at affordable cost levels. Imagine a world where we can speed up processing to the point where we can crunch huge volumes of data in milliseconds to create a much more relevant, timely, personalised experience – that’s the start of a game changer.
From a personal point of view, I’m excited about car tech. Apart from the potential safety and congestion improvements, anything that gives me back time to listen, watch and browse on the go is a big winner.
If you weren’t doing the job you do now, what would you be doing?
If you do something you’re passionate about then it doesn’t feel like a job. I’d be doing something that involves one of my other big passions – either travel or music. Being the CTO at Booking.com would be good as their HQ is in Amsterdam – one of my favourite cities.